City of Tonawanda holds brief Juneteenth ceremony, local civil rights group responds
CITY OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Many local governments were closed Monday in observation of Juneteenth, which has been a federal holiday for a year now. But, there are many towns and cities that are still not officially recognizing the commemoration of the end of slavery.
And, there was a change in course in one local city.
The City of Tonawanda initially had no plans to celebrate Juneteenth, even though it had done so a year ago. Under a previous administration, the city government signed a memorandum of understanding with worker unions to officially recognize the holiday.
The city’s initial decision changed after News 4 reported on the absence of any recognition and criticism from community leaders such as Jeremy Zellner, the chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, who is a City of Tonawanda resident.
The City of Tonawanda had a brief ceremony observing Juneteenth on Monday. The explanation from the City of Tonawanda Mayor John White, a Republican, on why the city didn’t do more this year, such as close down government offices, has to do with union contracts not listing Juneteenth as a recognized holiday.
“I want to sit down with the proper groups and make it happen the right way, I just don’t want to make it a day, ‘oh you got it off’ a lot of people think of this day as a day off as an extended holiday that’s not what it’s about,” White said.
City of Tonawanda workers was able to take a personal day Monday to observe the holiday.
Buffalo’s NAACP appreciates the last-minute shift.
“It’s a start, but more needs to be said more needs to be done, more education needs to be given to the communities,” said Rev. Mark Blue, the president of the NAACP.
That continuing education on Juneteenth could be found Monday at the Buffalo Museum of Science with story time readings on Juneteenth. Buffalo, Erie County and the City of Niagara Falls are just a few local municipalities that recognize Juneteenth.
But, many other communities have been slow in officially recognizing the end of slavery. For example, government offices in the town and village of Lancaster, Cheektowaga and West Seneca were open Monday, citing union contracts.
“We ought to recognize it every year, by every culture, by every city, by every state that we are free,” Blue said, “This is an opportunity for us to celebrate the freedom that has been afforded us because of the injustices because of slavery because of the color of our skin.”
He makes the comparison between Independence Day and Juneteenth. Both holidays celebrate freedom.
But, there’s still a lot of work to be done to fully recognize Juneteenth locally and across the country.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.